Pheromonal communication is crucial with regard to mate choice in many animals including insects. Drosophila melanogaster flies produce a pheromonal bouquet with many cuticular hydrocarbons some of which diverge between the sexes and differently affect male courtship behavior. Cuticular pheromones have a relatively high weight and are thought to be — mostly but not only — detected by gustatory contact. However, the response of the peripheral and central gustatory systems to these substances remains poorly explored. We measured the effect induced by pheromonal cuticular mixtures on (i) the electrophysiological response of peripheral gustatory receptor neurons, (ii) the calcium variation in brain centers receiving these gustatory inputs and (iii) the behavioral reaction induced in control males and in mutant desat1 males, which show abnormal pheromone production and perception. While male and female pheromones induced inhibitory-like effects on taste receptor neurons, the contact of male pheromones on male fore-tarsi elicits a long-lasting response of higher intensity in the dedicated gustatory brain center. We found that the behavior of control males was more strongly inhibited by male pheromones than by female pheromones, but this difference disappeared in anosmic males. Mutant desat1 males showed an increased sensitivity of their peripheral gustatory neurons to contact pheromones and a behavioral incapacity to discriminate sex pheromones. Together our data indicate that cuticular hydrocarbons induce long-lasting inhibitory effects on the relevant taste pathway which may interact with the olfactory pathway to modulate pheromonal perception.
Sex pheromones are chemical signals frequently required for mate choice, but their reciprocal role on mate preference has rarely been shown in both sexes. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, the predominant cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) are sexually dimorphic: only females produce 7,11-dienes, whereas 7-tricosene (7-T) is the principal male CH. Males generally prefer females with 7,11-dienes, but the role of 7-T on female behaviour remains unclear. With perfumed males, control females mated faster and more often with males carrying increased levels of 7-T showing that this CH acts as a chemical stimulant for D. melanogaster females. Control females—but not antenna-less females—could detect small variation of 7-T. Finally, our finding that desat1 mutant female showed altered response towards 7-T provides an additional role for this gene which affects the production and the perception of pheromones involved in mate choice, in both sexes.
male pheromone; 7-tricosene; female receptivity; antenna; desat1; Drosophila
Pheromones regulate male social behaviors in Drosophila, but the identities and behavioral role(s) of these chemosensory signals, and how they interact, are incompletely understood. Here we show that (Z)-7-tricosene (7-T), a male-enriched cuticular hydrocarbon (CH) previously shown to inhibit male-male courtship, is also essential for normal levels of aggression. The opposite influences of 7-T on aggression and courtship are independent, but both require the gustatory receptor Gr32a. Surprisingly, sensitivity to 7-T is required for the aggression-promoting effect of 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), an olfactory pheromone, but 7-T sensitivity is independent of cVA. 7-T and cVA therefore regulate aggression in a hierarchical manner. Furthermore, the increased courtship caused by depletion of male CHs is suppressed by a mutation in the olfactory receptor Or47b. Thus, male social behaviors are controlled by gustatory pheromones that promote and suppress aggression and courtship, respectively, and whose influences are dominant to olfactory pheromones that enhance these behaviors.
Rapid evolution of gene expression patterns responsible for pheromone production in 24 species of Drosophila was mapped to simple mutations within the regulatory domain of the desatF gene.
A wide range of organisms use sex pheromones to communicate with each other and to identify appropriate mating partners. While the evolution of chemical communication has been suggested to cause sexual isolation and speciation, the mechanisms that govern evolutionary transitions in sex pheromone production are poorly understood. Here, we decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the rapid evolution in the expression of a gene involved in sex pheromone production in Drosophilid flies. Long-chain cuticular hydrocarbons (e.g., dienes) are produced female-specifically, notably via the activity of the desaturase DESAT-F, and are potent pheromones for male courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster. We show that across the genus Drosophila, the expression of this enzyme is correlated with long-chain diene production and has undergone an extraordinary number of evolutionary transitions, including six independent gene inactivations, three losses of expression without gene loss, and two transitions in sex-specificity. Furthermore, we show that evolutionary transitions from monomorphism to dimorphism (and its reversion) in desatF expression involved the gain (and the inactivation) of a binding-site for the sex-determination transcription factor, DOUBLESEX. In addition, we documented a surprising example of the gain of particular cis-regulatory motifs of the desatF locus via a set of small deletions. Together, our results suggest that frequent changes in the expression of pheromone-producing enzymes underlie evolutionary transitions in chemical communication, and reflect changing regimes of sexual selection, which may have contributed to speciation among Drosophila.
Mate selection is a complex process involving communication between potential partners on many levels, such as visual, aural, and olfactory cues. Many animals use chemical signals in the form of pheromones to communicate and correctly recognize individuals of the appropriate species and sex during reproduction. Evolutionary changes in the production of these chemicals have been suggested to contribute to speciation. Yet, the molecular mechanisms governing these transitions have seldom been addressed. Here, we show that expression of the gene desatF, which encodes an enzyme involved in the production of the Drosophila pheromones known as dienes, is highly variable and rapidly evolving across Drosophila species. Changes in desatF gene expression correlate with changes in sex- and species-specific production of dienes. Further, these changes in diene production can be explained by simple modifications in the regulatory regions of the desatF gene, providing a molecular level understanding of the evolution of pheromone production in Drosophila.
In many insect species, cuticular hydrocarbons serve as pheromones that can mediate complex social behaviors. In Drosophila melanogaster, several hydrocarbons including the male sex pheromone 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) and female-specific 7,11-dienes influence courtship behavior and can function as cues for short-term memory associated with the mating experience. Behavioral and physiological studies suggest that other unidentified chemical communication cues are likely to exist. To more fully characterize the hydrocarbon profile of the D. melanogaster cuticle, we applied direct ultraviolet laser desorption/ionization orthogonal time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UV-LDI-o-TOF MS) and analyzed the surface of intact fruit flies at a spatial resolution of approximately 200 μm.
We report the chemical and spatial characterization of 28 species of cuticular hydrocarbons, including a new major class of oxygen-containing compounds. Using UV-LDI MS, pheromones previously shown to be expressed exclusively by one sex, e.g. cVA, 7,11-heptacosadiene, and 7,11-nonacosadiene, appear to be found on both male and female flies. In males, cVA co-localizes at the tip of the ejaculatory bulb with a second acetylated hydrocarbon named CH503. We describe the chemical structure of CH503 as 3-O-acetyl-1,3-dihydroxy-octacosa-11,19-diene and show one behavioral role for this compound as a long-lived inhibitor of male courtship. Like cVA, CH503 is transferred from males to females during mating. Unlike cVA, CH503 remains on the surface of females for at least 10 days.
Oxygenated hydrocarbons comprise one major previously undescribed class of compounds on the Drosophila cuticular surface. In addition to cVA, a newly-discovered long chain acetate, CH503, serves as a mediator of courtship-related chemical communication.
The elaborate courtship ritual of Drosophila males is dictated by neural circuitry established by the transcription factor Fruitless and triggered by sex-specific sensory cues. Deciphering the role of different stimuli in driving courtship behavior has been limited by the inability to selectively target appropriate sensory classes. Here, we identify two ion channel genes belonging to the degenerin/epithelial sodium channel family, ppk23 and ppk29, which are expressed in fruitless-positive neurons on the legs and are essential for courtship. Gene loss-of-function, cell inactivation and cell activation experiments demonstrate that these genes and neurons are necessary and sufficient to inhibit courtship toward males and promote courtship toward females. Moreover, these cells respond to cuticular hydrocarbons, with different cells selectively responding to male or female pheromones. These studies identify a large population of pheromone-sensing neurons and demonstrate the essential role of contact chemosensation in the early courtship steps of mate selection and courtship initiation.
Recognition of conspecifics and mates is based on a variety of sensory cues that are specific to the species, sex and social status of each individual. The courtship and mating activity of Drosophila melanogaster flies is thought to depend on the olfactory perception of a male-specific volatile pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA), and the gustatory perception of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs), some of which are sexually dimorphic. Using two complementary sampling methods (headspace Solid Phase Micro-Extraction [SPME] and solvent extraction) coupled with GC-MS analysis, we measured the dispersion of pheromonal CHs in the air and on the substrate around the fly. We also followed the variations in CHs that were induced by social and sexual interactions. We found that all CHs present on the fly body were deposited as a thin layer on the substrate, whereas only a few of these molecules were also detected in the air. Moreover, social experience during early adult development and in mature flies strongly affected male volatile CHs but not cVA, whereas sexual interaction only had a moderate influence on dispersed CHs. Our study suggests that, in addition to their role as contact cues, CHs can influence fly behavior at a distance and that volatile, deposited and body pheromonal CHs participate in a three-step recognition of the chemical identity and social status of insects.
By genetically manipulating both pheromonal profiles and behavioral patterns, we find that Drosophila males showed a complete reversal in their patterns of aggression towards other males and females
Appropriate displays of aggression rely on the ability to recognize potential competitors. As in most species, Drosophila males fight with other males and do not attack females. In insects, sex recognition is strongly dependent on chemosensory communication, mediated by cuticular hydrocarbons acting as pheromones. While the roles of chemical and other sensory cues in stimulating male to female courtship have been well characterized in Drosophila, the signals that elicit aggression remain unclear. Here we show that when female pheromones or behavior are masculinized, males recognize females as competitors and switch from courtship to aggression. To masculinize female pheromones, a transgene carrying dsRNA for the sex determination factor transformer (traIR) was targeted to the pheromone producing cells, the oenocytes. Shortly after copulation males attacked these females, indicating that pheromonal cues can override other sensory cues. Surprisingly, masculinization of female behavior by targeting traIR to the nervous system in an otherwise normal female also was sufficient to trigger male aggression. Simultaneous masculinization of both pheromones and behavior induced a complete switch in the normal male response to a female. Control males now fought rather than copulated with these females. In a reciprocal experiment, feminization of the oenocytes and nervous system in males by expression of transformer (traF) elicited high levels of courtship and little or no aggression from control males. Finally, when confronted with flies devoid of pheromones, control males attacked male but not female opponents, suggesting that aggression is not a default behavior in the absence of pheromonal cues. Thus, our results show that masculinization of either pheromones or behavior in females is sufficient to trigger male-to-female aggression. Moreover, by manipulating both the pheromonal profile and the fighting patterns displayed by the opponent, male behavioral responses towards males and females can be completely reversed. Therefore, both pheromonal and behavioral cues are used by Drosophila males in recognizing a conspecific as a competitor.
As in other species, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster uses chemical signals in the form of pheromones to recognize the species and sex of another individual. Males typically fight with other males and do not attack females. While the roles of pheromonal and other sensory cues in stimulating courtship towards females have been extensively studied, the signals that elicit aggression towards other males remain unclear. In this work, we use genetic tools to show that masculinization of female pheromones is sufficient to trigger aggression from wild type males towards females. Surprisingly, males also attacked females that displayed male patterns of aggression, even if they show normal female pheromonal profiles, indicating that pheromones are not the only cues important for identifying another animal as an opponent. By simultaneously manipulating pheromones and behavioral patterns of opponents, we can completely switch the behavioral response of males towards females and males. These results demonstrate that not only pheromonal but also behavioral cues can serve as triggers of aggression, underlining the importance of behavioral feedback in the manifestation of social behaviors.
Most living organisms use pheromones for inter-individual communication. In Drosophila melanogaster flies, several pheromones perceived either by contact/at a short distance (cuticular hydrocarbons, CHs), or at a longer distance (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA), affect courtship and mating behaviours. However, it has not previously been possible to precisely identify all potential pheromonal compounds and simultaneously monitor their variation on a time scale. To overcome this limitation, we combined Solid Phase Micro-Extraction with gas-chromatography coupled with mass-spectrometry. This allowed us (i) to identify 59 cuticular compounds, including 17 new CHs; (ii) to precisely quantify the amount of each compound that could be detected by another fly, and (iii) to measure the variation of these substances as a function of aging and mating. Sex-specific variation appeared with age, while mating affected cuticular compounds in both sexes with three possible patterns: variation was (i) reciprocal in the two sexes, suggesting a passive mechanical transfer during mating, (ii) parallel in both sexes, such as for cVA which strikingly appeared during mating, or (iii) unilateral, presumably as a result of sexual interaction. We provide a complete reassessment of all Drosophila CHs and suggest that the chemical conversation between male and female flies is far more complex than is generally accepted. We conclude that focusing on individual compounds will not provide a satisfactory understanding of the evolution and function of chemical communication in Drosophila.
Reproductive behavior in Drosophila has both stereotyped and plastic components that are driven by age- and sex-specific chemical cues. Males who unsuccessfully court virgin females subsequently avoid females that are of the same age as the trainer. In contrast, males trained with mature mated females associate volatile appetitive and aversive pheromonal cues and learn to suppress courtship of all females. Here we show that the volatile aversive pheromone that leads to generalized learning with mated females is (Z)-11-octadecenyl acetate (cis-vaccenyl acetate, cVA). cVA is a major component of the male cuticular hydrocarbon profile, but it is not found on virgin females. During copulation, cVA is transferred to the female in ejaculate along with sperm and peptides that decrease her sexual receptivity. When males sense cVA (either synthetic or from mated female or male extracts) in the context of female pheromone, they develop a generalized suppression of courtship. The effects of cVA on initial courtship of virgin females can be blocked by expression of tetanus toxin in Or65a, but not Or67d neurons, demonstrating that the aversive effects of this pheromone are mediated by a specific class of olfactory neuron. These findings suggest that transfer of cVA to females during mating may be part of the male’s strategy to suppress reproduction by competing males.
Learning and memory; olfaction; Drosophila; pheromones; cis-vaccenyl acetate
The sensory and genetic bases of incipient speciation between strains of Drosophila melanogaster from Zimbabwe and those from elsewhere are unknown. We studied mating behaviour between eight strains – six from Zimbabwe, together with two cosmopolitan strains. The Zimbabwe strains showed significant sexual isolation when paired with cosmopolitan males, due to Zimbabwe females discriminating against these males. Our results show that flies' cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs) were involved in this sexual isolation, but that visual and acoustic signals were not. The mating frequency of Zimbabwe females was highly significantly negatively correlated with the male's relative amount of 7-tricosene (%7-T), while the mating of cosmopolitan females was positively correlated with %7-T. Variation in transcription levels of two hydrocarbon-determining genes, desat1 and desat2, did not correlate with the observed mating patterns. Our study represents a step forward in our understanding of the sensory processes involved in this classic case of incipient speciation.
Drosophila melanogaster males express two primary cuticular hydrocarbons (male-predominant hydrocarbons). These act as sex pheromones by influencing female receptivity to mating. The relative quantities of these hydrocarbons vary widely among natural populations and can contribute to variation in mating success. We tested four isofemale lines collected from a wild population to assess the effect of intrapopulation variation in male-predominant hydrocarbons on mating success. The receptivity of laboratory females to males of the four wild-caught lines varied significantly, but not consistently in the direction predicted by variation in male-predominant hydrocarbons. Receptivity of the wild-caught females to laboratory males also varied significantly, but females from lines with male-predominant hydrocarbon profiles closer to a more cosmopolitan one did not show a correspondingly strong mating bias toward a cosmopolitan male. Among wild-caught lines, the male-specific ejaculatory bulb lipid, cis-vaccenyl acetate, varied more than two-fold, but was not associated with variation in male mating success. We observed a strong inverse relationship between the receptivity of wild-caught females and the mating success of males from their own lines, when tested with laboratory flies of the opposite sex.
Detection of specific female pheromones stimulates courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster males, but the chemosensory molecules, cells and mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. Here we show that ppk25, a DEG/ENaC ion channel subunit required for normal male response to females, is expressed at highest levels in a single sexually dimorphic gustatory neuron of most taste hairs on legs and wings, but not in neurons that detect courtship-inhibiting pheromones or food. Synaptic inactivation of ppk25-expressing neurons, or knockdown of ppk25 expression in all gustatory neurons significantly impairs male response to females, whereas gustatory expression of ppk25 rescues the courtship behavior of ppk25 mutant males. Remarkably, the only other detectable albeit significantly weaker expression of ppk25 occurs in olfactory neurons implicated in modulation of courtship behavior. However, expression of ppk25 in olfactory neurons is not required for male courtship under our experimental conditions. These data show that ppk25 functions specifically in peripheral taste neurons involved in activation of courtship behavior, an unexpected function for this type of channel. Furthermore, our work identifies a small subset of gustatory neurons with an essential role in activation of male courtship behavior, most likely in response to female pheromones.
Females in a wide range of taxa have been shown to base their choice of mates on pheromone signals. However, little research has focussed specifically on the form and intensity of selection that mate choice imposes on the pheromone signal. Using multivariate selection analysis, we characterise directly the form and intensity of sexual selection acting on cuticular hydrocarbons, chemical compounds widely used in the selection of mates in insects. Using the Australian field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus as a model organism, we use three measures of male attractiveness to estimate fitness; mating success, the duration of courtship required to elicit copulation, and subsequent spermatophore attachment duration.
We found that all three measures of male attractiveness generated sexual selection on male cuticular hydrocarbons, however there were differences in the form and intensity of selection among these three measures. Mating success was the only measure of attractiveness that imposed both univariate linear and quadratic selection on cuticular hydrocarbons. Although we found that all three attractiveness measures generated nonlinear selection, again only mating success was found to exert statistically significant stabilizing selection.
This study shows that sexual selection plays an important role in the evolution of male cuticular hydrocarbon signals.
Chemical signals play an important role in spider sexual communication, yet the chemistry of spider sex pheromones remains poorly understood. Chemical identification of male-produced pheromone-mediating sexual behaviour in spiders has also, to our knowledge, not been reported before. This study aimed to examine whether chemically mediated strategies are used by males of the spider Pholcus beijingensis for increasing the probability of copulation. Based on data from gas chromatography–mass spectrometry analysis, electroantennography assay and a series of behavioural tests, we verified that (Z)-9-tricosene is a male-specific compound in the spider P. beijingensis. This compound acts as an aphrodisiac: it increases the likelihood that a female will mate. Mate-searching males release (Z)-9-tricosene to stimulate sexual behaviour of conspecific females. In the two-choice assay, however, sexually receptive females show no preference to the chambers containing (Z)-9-tricosene. This indicates that the male pheromone of P. beijingensis is not an attractant per se to the conspecific females. This is, to our knowledge, the first identification of a male-produced aphrodisiac pheromone in spiders.
(Z)-9-tricosene; male pheromone; aphrodisiac; Araneae; Pholcidae
The evolution of communication is a fundamental biological problem. The genetic control of the signal and its reception must be tightly coadapted, especially in inter-individual sexual communication. However, there is very little experimental evidence for tight genetic linkage connecting the emission of a signal and its reception. We found that a single genomic transposon inserted in the desat1 gene of Drosophila melanogaster simultaneously affected the emission and the perception of sex-specific signals. This mutation greatly decreased the production of unsaturated hydrocarbons on the cuticle of mature flies of both sexes. These substances represent the sex pheromones necessary for mate discrimination: control males could not discriminate the sex of mutant desat1 flies. Moreover, mutant males were unable to discriminate the sex pheromones of control flies. Expression of desat1 was found in the peripheral tissues that produce and detect sex pheromones. Excision of the transposon rescued both the production and discrimination phenotypes, but the two effects did not always coincide. This indicates that the emission and perception of pheromones are coded by different products of the same gene, reflecting the pleiotropic activity of desat1.
pheromonal communication; mate discrimination; desaturase; Drosophila; PGal4
Drosophila Cuticular Hydrocarbons (CH) influence courtship behaviour, mating, aggregation, oviposition, and resistance to desiccation. We measured levels of 24 different CH compounds of individual male D. melanogaster hourly under a variety of environmental (LD/DD) conditions. Using a model-based analysis of CH variation, we developed an improved normalization method for CH data, and show that CH compounds have reproducible cyclic within-day temporal patterns of expression which differ between LD and DD conditions. Multivariate clustering of expression patterns identified 5 clusters of co-expressed compounds with common chemical characteristics. Turnover rate estimates suggest CH production may be a significant metabolic cost. Male cuticular hydrocarbon expression is a dynamic trait influenced by light and time of day; since abundant hydrocarbons affect male sexual behavior, males may present different pheromonal profiles at different times and under different conditions.
We investigated the relationship between epicuticular and internal hydrocarbons in the adult house fly, Musca domestica and the distribution of hydrocarbons, including the female sex pheromone component, (Z)-9-tricosene, in tissues. Internal hydrocarbons increased dramatically in relation to sexual maturation and were found in the hemolymph, ovaries, digestive tract, and fat body. (Z)-9-Tricosene comprised a relatively large fraction of the hydrocarbons in the female carcass and hemolymph, and less so in other tissues, while other hydrocarbons were represented in greater amounts in the ovaries than in other tissues. It therefore appears that certain hydrocarbons were selectively provisioned to certain tissues such as the ovaries, from which pheromone was relatively excluded. Both KBr gradient ultracentrifugation and specific immunoprecipitation indicated that > 90% of hemolymph hydrocarbons were associated with a high-density lipophorin (density = 1.09 g ml−1), composed of two apoproteins under denaturing conditions, apolipophorin I (∼240 kD) and apolipophorin II (∼85 kD). Our results support a predicted model (Chino, 1985) that lipophorin is involved in the transport of sex pheromone in M. domestica. In addition to delivering hydrocarbons and sex pheromones to the cuticular surface, we suggest that lipophorin may play an important role in an active mechanism that selectively deposits certain subsets of hydrocarbons at specific tissues.
Musca domestica; house fly; sex pheromone; hydrocarbon; lipophorin; wax transport
In Drosophila, cuticular sex pheromones are long-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons synthesized from fatty acid precursors in epidermal cells called oenocytes. The species D. melanogaster shows sex pheromone dimorphism, with high levels of monoenes in males, and of dienes in females. Some biosynthesis enzymes are expressed both in fat body and oenocytes, rendering it difficult to estimate the exact role of oenocytes and of the transport of fatty acids from fat body to oenocytes in pheromone elaboration. To address this question, we RNAi silenced two main genes of the biosynthesis pathway, desat1 and desatF, in the oenocytes of D. melanogaster, without modifying their fat body expression.
Inactivation of desat1 in oenocytes resulted in a 96% and 78% decrease in unsaturated hydrocarbons in males and females, respectively. Female pheromones (dienes) showed a decrease of 90%. Inactivation of desatF, which is female-specific and responsible for diene formation, resulted in a dramatic loss of pheromones (-98%) paralleled with a two-fold increase in monoenes. Courtship parameters (especially courtship latency) from wild-type males were more affected by desat1 knocked-down females (courtship latency increased by four fold) than by desatF knocked-down ones (+65% of courtship latency).
The number of transcripts in oenocytes was estimated at 0.32 and 0.49 attomole/μg for desat1 in males and females, respectively, about half of the total transcripts in a fly. There were only 0.06 attomole/μg desatF transcripts in females, all located in the oenocytes.
Knock-down results for desat1 suggest that there must be very little transport of unsaturated precursors from fat body to the oenocytes, so pheromone synthesis occurs almost entirely through the action of biosynthesis enzymes within the oenocytes. Courtship experiments allow us to discuss the behavioral role of diene pheromones, which, under special conditions, could be replaced by monoenes in D. melanogaster. A possible explanation is given of how pheromones could have evolved in species such as D. simulans, which only synthesize monoenes.
Sexual isolation, the reduced tendency to mate, is one of the reproductive barriers that prevent gene flow between different species. Various species-specific signals during courtship contribute to sexual isolation between species. Drosophila albomicans and D. nasuta are closely related species of the nasuta subgroup within the Drosophila immigrans group and are distributed in allopatry. We analyzed mating behavior and courtship as well as cuticular hydrocarbon profiles within and between species. Here, we report that these two species randomly mated with each other. We did not observe any sexual isolation between species or between strains within species by multiple-choice tests. Significant difference in the courtship index was detected between these two species, but males and females of both species showed no discrimination against heterospecific partners. Significant quantitative variations in cuticular hydrocarbons between these two species were also found, but the cuticular hydrocarbons appear to play a negligible role in both courtship and sexual isolation between these two species. In contrast to the evident postzygotic isolation, the lack of sexual isolation between these two species suggests that the evolution of premating isolation may lag behind that of the intergenomic incompatibility, which might be driven by intragenomic conflicts.
Courtship; cuticular hydrocarbons; D. albomicans; D. nasuta; mating behavior; speciation
The insect gustatory receptors (GRs) are members of a large G-protein coupled receptor family distantly related to the insect olfactory receptors. They are phylogenetically different from taste receptors of most other animals. GRs are often coexpressed with other GRs in single receptor neurons. Taste receptors other than GRs are also expressed in some neurons. Recent molecular studies in the fruitfly Drosophila revealed that the insect taste receptor system not only covers a wide ligand spectrum of sugars, bitter substances or salts that are common to mammals but also includes reception of pheromone and somatosensory stimulants. However, the central mechanism to perceive and discriminate taste information is not yet elucidated. Analysis of the primary projection of taste neurons to the brain shows that the projection profiles depend basically on the peripheral locations of the neurons as well as the GRs that they express. These results suggest that both peripheral and central design principles of insect taste perception are different from those of olfactory perception.
insect; Drosophila; gustatory receptor (GR); taste ligand; taste neuron; taste sensillum; subesophageal ganglion complex (SOG); feeding behavior
Mate choice is based on the comparison of the sensory quality of potential mating partners, and sex pheromones play an important role in this process. In Drosophila melanogaster, contact pheromones differ between male and female in their content and in their effects on male courtship, both inhibitory and stimulatory. To investigate the genetic basis of sex pheromone discrimination, we experimentally selected males showing either a higher or lower ability to discriminate sex pheromones over 20 generations. This experimental selection was carried out in parallel on two different genetic backgrounds: wild-type and desat1 mutant, in which parental males showed high and low sex pheromone discrimination ability respectively. Male perception of male and female pheromones was separately affected during the process of selection. A comparison of transcriptomic activity between high and low discrimination lines revealed genes not only that varied according to the starting genetic background, but varied reciprocally. Mutants in two of these genes, Shaker and quick-to-court, were capable of producing similar effects on discrimination on their own, in some instances mimicking the selected lines, in others not. This suggests that discrimination of sex pheromones depends on genes whose activity is sensitive to genetic context and provides a rare, genetically defined example of the phenomenon known as “allele flips,” in which interactions have reciprocal effects on different genetic backgrounds.
Most animals including insects rely on olfaction to find their mating partners. In moths, males are attracted by female-produced sex pheromones inducing stereotyped sexual behavior. The behaviorally relevant olfactory information is processed in the primary olfactory centre, the antennal lobe (AL). Evidence is now accumulating that modulation of sex-linked behavioral output occurs through neuronal plasticity via the action of hormones and/or catecholamines. A G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) binding to 20-hydroxyecdysone, the main insect steroid hormone, and dopamine, has been identified in Drosophila (DmDopEcR), and was suggested to modulate neuronal signaling. In the male moth Agrotis ipsilon, the behavioral and central nervous responses to pheromone are age-dependent. To further unveil the mechanisms of this olfactory plasticity, we searched for DopEcR and tested its potential role in the behavioral response to sex pheromone in A. ipsilon males. Our results show that A. ipsilon DopEcR (named AipsDopEcR) is predominantly expressed in the nervous system. The corresponding protein was detected immunohistochemically in the ALs and higher brain centers including the mushroom bodies. Moreover, AipsDopEcR expression increased with age. Using a strategy of RNA interference, we also show that silencing of AipsDopEcR inhibited the behavioral response to sex pheromone in wind tunnel experiments. Altogether our results indicate that this GPCR is involved in the expression of sexual behavior in the male moth, probably by modulating the central nervous processing of sex pheromone through the action of one or both of its ligands.
Pheromones play an important role for mate finding and courtship in many insects. In species where males are the signaling sex, females are expected to choose among potential mates with regard to the emitter's quality and/or genetic compatibility. One important aspect is the balance between negative and positive effects of in- vs. outbreeding. In the present study, we aimed to assess the potential of the territory marking pheromone of European beewolves as an indicator for genetic compatibility in the context of female choice.
We analyzed the sex pheromone composition of male European beewolves (Philanthus triangulum F., Hymenoptera, Crabronidae) from eight different locations across Central Europe (six in Germany, one in England, and one in Italy). The pheromone constitutes a complex blend of various long-chain hydrocarbons (alkanes, alkenes, alcohols, ketones, and a carbon acid). We demonstrate that pheromone composition differs significantly among distant populations (regional scale), among subpopulations (local scale) and between families within subpopulations. The differences in the pheromone blend are positively correlated with geographical distances as might be expected according to an isolation-by-distance model. On a local scale, family membership has a larger effect on pheromone composition than subpopulation affiliation, while the reverse is true for the regional scale.
Our results show that male pheromones can contain information on both kinship and geographical origin that may be used by females to choose adaptively among potential mates on the basis of their genetic distance.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Although degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster, the physiological functions of these proteins are still poorly understood. We found that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory bristles that are distinct from those expressing feeding-related gustatory receptors. Disrupting ppk23 or inhibiting activity of ppk23-expressing neurons did not alter gustatory responses. Instead, blocking ppk23-positive neurons or mutating the ppk23 gene delayed the initiation and reduced the intensity of male courtship. Furthermore, mutations in ppk23 altered the behavioral response of males to the female-specific aphrodisiac pheromone 7(Z), 11(Z)-Heptacosadiene. Together, these data indicate that ppk23 and the cells expressing it play an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.
Insects utilize diverse families of ion channels to respond to environmental cues and control mating, feeding, and the response to threats. Degenerin/epithelial sodium channels (DEG/ENaC) represent one of the largest families of ion channels in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the physiological functions of the majority of these proteins in Drosophila or any other animal are still unknown. We discovered that the DEG/ENaC channel ppk23 is expressed in a subpopulation of sexually dimorphic gustatory-like chemosensory neurons. We show that ppk23 and the neurons expressing it are important for normal male sexual behaviors, possibly via the detection of an aphrodisiac pheromone, but not for feeding decisions. Together, these data indicate that DEG/ENaC signaling plays an important role in the peripheral sensory system that determines sexual behavior in Drosophila.